Snubbed By Hageman And Barrasso, No WyomingPBS Debates For Primary

John Barrasso and Harriet Hageman have told WyomingPBS they won’t participate in the station’s televised debates this year. That means the station won’t have congressional primary debates.

Leo Wolfson

July 10, 20246 min read

The 2022 Republican House primary debate in Wyoming was covered by media around the world.
The 2022 Republican House primary debate in Wyoming was covered by media around the world. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

Wyomingites looking forward to televised debates between the state’s congressional primary candidates will be disappointed.

Both U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman have informed WyomingPBS they will not participate in the station’s traditional televised Republican primary debates.

That means for the first time in decades the state’s public television station won’t have congressional primary debates.

“WyomingPBS is here to offer viewers and citizens of Wyoming the opportunity to hear unbiased debates between candidates running for state office,” Joanna Kail, CEO of Wyoming PBS told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “We invite all qualifying candidates to debates, and we cannot control whether they choose to participate or not.”

Kail said both debates were scheduled for Aug. 8, and that neither candidate gave a reason for why they wouldn't be attending, nor offered an alternate date they could participate.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for Hageman’s reelection campaign, said the congresswoman is focusing on hosting town halls and meeting directly with voters this election season.

“Rep. Hageman has a record of fighting for conservative Wyoming values and putting Wyoming and America first,” Murtaugh said. “She believes that directly interacting with voters is the best way for candidates to engage and that a voting record remains the best measure of a candidate.”

The Barrasso campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Barrasso’s leading Republican opponent Reid Rasner called Barrasso skipping the debate an act of “cowardice, contempt and abandonment of the people of Wyoming.”

​​“From the perspective of a Wyomingite, I know how upsetting it is to hear that a state-funded and supposedly unbiased news source is canceling one of the only chances that people have to hear each candidate discuss and argue the issues,” Rasner said in a press release. “I am calling on John Barrasso to attend our own debate. We have selected a date that works with his campaign and Senate calendars. The people deserve better."

Hageman participated in what was one of the most viewed primary debates in Wyoming history during the 2022 Republican primary debate featuring former congresswoman Liz Cheney, an event that drew international coverage because of Cheney’s opposition to former President Donald Trump.

During this debate, Hageman briefly criticized the fact that the first two questions asked pertained to the Republican Party’s relationship with Trump since the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“I think this is an example of how the press and certain people have obsessed over Jan. 6, because we’ve only had two questions in this debate and they’ve both been focused on that,” Hageman said at the time.

This year, Hageman only has one opponent in her Republican primary, but Barrasso has two. During the lead up to the 2022 general election, Wyoming PBS still hosted a debate without Hageman even though she was considered the overwhelming favorite in that race.

No Debates At All?

Kail was unable to say if WyomingPBS has ever had an election year since it started hosting debates where no debates were held.

Longtime former Wyoming Public Radio host Bob Beck, who first started reporting in Wyoming in 1983, said he couldn’t recall an election year where a formal debate among statewide candidates wasn’t held. Beck moderated many of these debates.

“I always found them to be very popular,” he said.

University of Wyoming Political Science professor Jim King said debates weren’t always a constant in Wyoming and have become something of a recent expectation and tradition in the state.

“It hasn’t been something people always expected like the presidential debate has become over the last 40 years,” King said. “Although it’s maybe breaking recent tradition, it doesn’t go back to statehood.”

He also downplayed the significance and viewership of these debates. Most of the WyomingPBS debates on YouTube have fewer than 1,000 views.

Beck said political debates have come in various forms in Wyoming and at times were hosted by different organizations and partnerships between other groups besides PBS. As news organizations have shrunk over the years, likely so has their clout in being able to sway candidates to participate in debates.

Beck said he has many fond memories of covering these events, such as when he watched former U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop nearly get physical with an opponent. He also said former congressman Dick Cheney once had a little fun with one of the moderators, calling him by the wrong name on purpose all night long.

Beck said he also remembers difficulties in trying to get candidates like former U.S. Reps. Barbara Cubin and Liz Cheney to do more than one debate each election season, as both usually faced little challenge from opponents in their general election races. He also heard of instances when there were confrontations among audience members.

Although Kail said WyomingPBS is still holding out hope that it will host debates in October for the general election, this may be an even longer shot than the primary as general election races in Wyoming tend to be less competitive than the primary.

Larger Trend

Beck believes debates serve a valuable purpose for voters.

“Sure, these candidates can go to social media, but there will be no tough questions they have to answer there,” he said.

With the influx of social media and the internet, one could make the argument that debates aren’t nearly as critical as they once were in the past for candidates to get their messages to voters.

But Beck believes candidates are also less accessible than they were in the past, mentioning how Dick Cheney and former Sen. Al Simpson used to do weekly interviews with him.

King believes modern debates do little more than to cement a voter’s pre-held convictions about candidates.

“For the most part, debates reinforce people in hearing what they want to hear,” he said. “It’s much more a reinforcing than a moderating experience.”

Trump has been the biggest name to shun debates lately, forgoing every debate of his most recent Republican primary race. It had no noticeable effect on his support and the former president coasted to victory in every state.

Conversely, many said President Joe Biden should not have participated in his recent debate with Trump because of his lackluster performance that gave Trump a big bump in the polls.

“As we saw with President Biden, sometimes it doesn’t go the way they want it to,” Beck said. “If a candidate is the frontrunner, why bother?”

Skipping out on debates is also taking place on a more local level in Wyoming.

Fremont County state legislators Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, Reps. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, Sarah Penn, R-Fort Washakie, and House candidates Joel Guggenmos and Tina Clifford recently published a newspaper ad where they said in a letter they will not be participating in debates hosted by the League of Women Voters. They criticize certain political stances the League has taken, which they say oppose their conservative values.

“We are not confident that the League is nonpartisan as the League claims,” the letter reads. “We will engage in other organized forums this election year.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter